Attitudinal detail: the 2004 and 2007 surveys compared

The respondents were not identical in the two surveys, as a high level of sample control was not possible. Thus the 2007 respondents were older than the 2004 respondents, with people aged 65 years and older constituting 33 per cent of the 2004 group and 43 per cent of the 2007 group. Both sets of respondents were also older than the average of those in the locality, and there is also a greater number of older people in the locality than in the region as a whole and in the UK in general. Nonetheless, although age may well have been a factor in opposition to renewable energy infrastructure (Upham, 2009), statistical investigation showed that age, on its own, did not consistently correlate with attitudinal differences between the two surveys (Upham, 2009).

There were a number of statistically significant differences between the two surveys that provide some insights into the dynamics of the case. In terms of information sources, the percentage of people who said that they had been exposed to information on the gasifier distributed by the local opposition group ‘DUST’ and by means of the local newsletter had both increased. Increased exposure was not to information distributed by proponents of the development (i. e. the developer or the regional development agency that originally supported the gasifier financially). Rather, the increased exposure was to media and local campaign sources, which played a stronger dissemination and interpretation role than official and developer-provided information. In fact, this higher level of reliance on, and trust in, non-official information sources ran throughout the course of the controversy.

A variety of specific concerns also increased:

• concern about potential noise disturbance increased, from being expressed by

64 per cent of respondents in 2004 to 79 per cent in 2007;

• concern about landscape change from energy crops increased from being

expressed by 69 per cent to 75 per cent of people;

• concern about other environmental impacts of energy crops increased from 60 per cent to 68 per cent of respondents.

Conversely, regarding benefits:

• expression of belief in the benefits of WINBEG for the incomes of Devonshire farmers fell, from being expressed by 16 per cent of respondents in 2004 to 9 per cent in 2007;

• belief in the environmental benefits of energy crops fell from 7 per cent to 3 per cent;

• belief that WINBEG will encourage tourism fell from 7 per cent to 3 per cent;

• belief that WINBEG will improve winter employment in agriculture fell from 15 per cent to 7 per cent;

• belief in the benefits of WINBEG diverting biomass from landfill fell from 11 per cent to 7 per cent.

At issue here is why there was so little trust in the official sources of information and so little belief in the potential benefits of the gasifier, as well as a hardening of negative opinion over time. At a surface level, the answer clearly lies in the percep­tion that negative consequences, specifically deterioration of quality of life, would follow from the establishment of the gasifier. The anticipated amenity loss associ­ated with frequent truck movements was important in this. Some 50 movements were expected daily by year 6, assuming trucks of 60m3 capacity (Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Co, 2004). Fifty movements equally distributed over a 12-hour day (0700-1900 hours) is about one every 15 minutes. This would be sustained for the plant’s lifetime of some 25 years. Local people also expected municipal solid waste to be used as a fuel, with associated odour and effluent, were worried about the gaseous emissions, and were also worried that this would set a precedent for further, unwanted forms of development. Although the plant was proposed for a disused airfield on the outskirts of the village (a little over 1km from the village centre), the trucks would have used the nearby main road, and a retirement village of light buildings bordered the airfield site.

However, what is less amenable to a surface-level understanding is that few of those who responded to the questionnaires approved of other (hypothetically posed) renewable energy options that would provide approximately the same level of electrical output as WINBEG. Indeed a much higher percentage of respon­dents assigned a negative than positive rating for all but one of the renewable energy alternatives to WINBEG, with the exception being the option of 15 offshore turbines. With respect to the latter, nearly half (48 per cent) of the respondents were positive about the offshore wind alternative. Winkleigh is more than 30km from any coast, and so offshore turbines would not usually be seen by the villagers. The other options (including small bioenergy CHP plant and wind turbines) would have been onshore within the local region, such that objection to these does suggest that proximity was a key issue. In two focus group discussions with some 30 people in total, objectors told us that the local negativity that the questionnaire recorded, regarding a range of renewable energy options, arose due to a generalized anger at WINBEG. This, though, would appear to be only a partial explanation: also evident in the focus groups was scepticism about climate change, a perception of a mismatch of the potential of renewable energy output relative to energy demand and relative to fossil and nuclear alternatives, and a reluctance to make what people perceived to be a unilateral sacrifice, given a perception of energy wastage in towns and cities. Underlying all of these reasons, though, appeared to be a strong commitment and attachment to the positive aesthetics of the landscape: people valued this landscape and place highly and in many cases had moved to the locality specifically for its qualities. They did not want to see the intrusion of built infrastructure that was of no benefit to them.

A body of theory particularly relevant to this is that of place attachment and place identity. In this way of thinking, place describes not only the physical charac­teristics of a location, but also the meanings and emotions associated with that location by individuals or groups (e. g. Gieryn, 2000; Devine-Wright, 2005, 2009, 2010). The term place attachment has been applied both to the process of attach­ing oneself to a place and the outcome of this process (Giuliani, 2002). Place identity refers to the ways in which physical and symbolic attributes of particular locations contribute to an individual’s sense of self or identity (Proshansky et al, 1983). Change to a location is sometimes termed a ‘disruption’ to place attach­ment (e. g. (Brown and Perkins, 1992) or a ‘threat’ to place identity (e. g. Bonaiuto et al, 1996)). Understanding the Winkleigh case and other siting controversies in these terms would appear to make considerable sense. It does, however, raise a number of issues relating to energy policy governance: most notably, how, if at all, to reflect such place attachment in local land use planning procedures.

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